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Pirates: Fun, shanties and a splash of drama

Michelle Brotohusodo

“The sea is becalmed. The crew of the pirate ship Neptune’s Revenge are on edge.”

“The musician strums to lift morale. Slowly, stories start to roll off the crew’s tongues like the waves they yearn. Love lost, lust, loot, laughter and sea lore are laid bare.”

This is the premise behind BnC Theatre’s first ever production, Piratesan all-male improvisation show set on the high seas and featuring a motley crew of Canberran actors and a live musician on a bass ukulele. I caught up with Pirates’ Director and local theatre maker, Catherine Crowley, to find out more.

Why pirates?

“I’m passionate about sharing the untold stories of people in our community and one element that I wanted to expose were the vulnerable stories of men. Men who have built a wall and don’t let people in. Pirates are those such men. The actual history, outside of Pirates of the Caribbean and Treasure Island, is a fascinating time where lost and disillusioned men would find a place on a boat plundering others for sport.

However, they weren’t always in luck of plunder, so what happened to these ruthless men when they had nothing to do? It’s in those moments they would entertain each other with stories and music. What were those stories? That’s what I’m interested in finding out. The stories they will tell in this show are tales of bravado, fear, fallibility, family and loss.”

Pirate Brad Hoff

Brad Hoff as Lorenzo the pirate (Photo: Workmanlike Images)

What kind of research did you do to prepare for the show?

The pirate era is beautifully rich in folklore, mythology, superstition and, of course, bloody battles. As an ensemble we’ve been looking closely at the kinds of men these pirates would have been and how they may have found themselves on a pirate ship. And wow, haven’t our eyes been opened! We’ve discovered that pirates actually came from all over the globe, that mostly they couldn’t swim and that they were working a pirate life because of some previous misdemeanour. A pirate life was a very dangerous and thus short-lived one. You’d think it would be the battles that killed them and sent them down to Davy’s Locker but it was more likely disease and starvation.

The other element which has amazed and inspired is their thirst for storytelling. One publication claims that Captain Blackbeard didn’t actually kill anyone, but the furore surrounding his life could be attributed more to the tongues of storytellers. For an improvised show, this kind of research is invaluable to draw on when making up characters and stories in the moment.

It’s an improvisation show—for those who might be unfamiliar with the style, how will it work?

Improvisation is a form of theatre that is discovered in the moment, whilst on stage, without a script. All of the material you watch on stage will have been discovered as the characters are talking. I’m particularly excited by this style of theatre as it opens up every possibility, especially when it comes to storytelling. The pirates are bored and they don’t have iPhones or iPads to play on so what are they going to do? Tell stories. Improvisation also allows actors to find characters and their voices organically. The only information the cast will know beforehand is the research, their names and that they are on a pirate ship. But how they got there, where they came from, who they like and dislike, will all be discovered in the moment. It’s thrilling.

[Author’s note: I’ve been to several impro shows and some of them are so seamless and well-acted it’s hard to believe the stories and words are being created on the spot, but they really are!]

Joshua Bell as McLauren (Photo: BnC Theatre)

Joshua Bell as McLauren (Photo: Workmanlike Images)

How does one direct an improvisation show if it’s improvised?

“That is a very good question and of course, it seems like an oxymoron to rehearse and direct a show made up from nothing. Research is obviously one element. If you want an audience to go on a journey with you then you need to be able to portray an era authentically. All the men have learned accents from a different country and worked hard at exploring the characteristics of storytelling. We’ve also been working on the ensemble, team building, and trust. In an improvisation show you need to trust your cast implicitly and in order to do that you need to get to know them better, so we’ve been working towards that.”

Can you tell us more about the cast?

“I’m really excited to be working with some of the best male improvisers in Canberra. They come from all walks of life; we have philosophers, poets, IT managers, public servants and musicians. I’m also really excited because this will be one of the first all-male impro shows in Canberra. In the rehearsal room the boys have built a real sense of trust and camaraderie which will permeate through the show.

Benjamin Crowley (Co-director of BnC Theatre) will also be debuting his first ever solo show as a support act for Pirates. Titled Much Ado About Ben, it’s a one-man variety show of sketch comedy, bad poetry, and marvellous musings. Ben is a brilliant actor and has worked with the likes of Max Cullen and Dene Kermond.”

Ben Crowley as Seamus (Photo: BnC Theatre)

Ben Crowley as Seamus (Photo: Workmanlike Images)

Pirates runs from 16-19 September 2016. 19 September is ‘Talk like a pirate day’ and people are encouraged to attend the show dressed up in their finest pirate attire and with their finest ‘Aye ayes’ and ‘Ahoys’!

the essentials

What: Pirates (including support act Much Ado about Ben)
When: 16-19 September 2016
Where: C Block Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Batman St, Braddon
How much: Adults $22.00, Concession $17.00
Web: Visit BnC Theatre’s Facebook page or buy tickets here

Pirates cast photos by Workmanlike Images.


Michelle Brotohusodo

Michelle moved to Canberra vowing to stay for two years, tops. More than 10 years later, she’s a bona fide Canberra convert. When she’s not working in her day job as a public servant, she’s enjoying Canberra’s culinary delights or finding fun things to do/see in and around town. More about the Author

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